A few days before Fortress Singapore fell to the invading Japanese army, a British army officer was executed as a traitor.
Military police reportedly took Captain Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan from his prison cell to the edge of Singapore Inner Harbour. There, the policemen unofficially carried out the sentence of an earlier court martial. They shot Heenan in the head and pushed his body into the sea. He was then aged 33 years.
Condemned as a traitor
The official account of this incident is subject to UK government restrictions but Peter Liphick and Michael Smith, authors of Odd Man Out, have pieced together information based on letters and memoirs from people who served alongside Heenan.
Liphick and Smith contend that Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan was one of the most important spies within a network of Japanese agents and disclosed secrets vital to the Japanese attack on Singapore.
In 1940 Heenan was stationed with the 2nd Batallion, 16th Punjab Regiment in northern Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand. From there he made “a number of clandestine trips into Thailand, passing information to a mysterious ‘Dutchman,’ a frequent cover for a German agent.” This information was then passed back to Tokyo through the Japanese embassy in Bangkok.
The Far East Combined Bureau (FECB), which controlled British intelligence operations in the region, were aware of intelligence leaks and narrowed down the source to an area in northern Malaysia but didn’t identify Heenan as the person responsible.
The following year Heenan was selected to join a newly formed unit that was intended to securely exchange secret intelligence between the 11th Indian Division and the Royal Air Force (RAF). His new job as a grade three intelligence officer was with a unit that helped prepare the defences at the three main British airfields on Penang. Its chief responsibility was to coordinate the collection and distribution of reconnaissance photos taken by the army and the RAF, material that Heenan was able to pass on to Japan.
Suspicions about his activities were aroused by a driver who was ordered by Heenan to keep secret his visits to a bungalow on a plantation near the Thai border. The Commanding Officer of the unit began monitoring and collecting information on his officer’s unorthodox activities. His suspicion increased when he learned that, during one of Heenan’s absences from the unit, he had taken a party of troops on a “ground exercise” that involved taking photographs of all the junctions and crossroads r up to the border and even into Thailand itself.
The CO was unable to get anyone to believe that Heenan presented a security risk. Instead Heenan was given even greater access to useful intelligence. He was assigned to the team charged with preparing the intended response to any Japanese invasion and he knew the codes used by pilots and airfields to identify friendly aircraft.
His treachery was only discovered when the unit was ordered to withdraw south when it was clear a Japanese invasion was imminent. A two-way radio receiver and transmitter was discovered hidden in a fake case that belonged to Heenan. It was the proof that the commanding officer had been searching for.
Heenan was arrested, charged with espionage and sent to Singapore to await trial. At the end of a three day court martial in January 1942, he was found guilty and condemned to be shot.
In Odd Man Out, Liphick and Smith claim that his jailers were afraid that Heenan might be rescued by the invading Japanese army before orders confirming his sentence could arrive from London. So they decided to execute the man themselves.
The exact date on which this occurred cannot be established. Probate records state his date of death as 15 February 1942
Reasons For Doubt?
It’s a story that makes for dramatic headlines. But is it true? Was he guilty of betraying his country or was he a loner, an oddity whose face didn’t fit and who was made a scapegoat for the failure’s of others?
There’s no simple answer to that question but there are some points which could raise doubts whether we are getting the full story about the man labelled “The Singapore Traitor” .
For one thing. we don’t know exactly what Heenan was accused of, nor what evidence was given at his court martial because the records are closed.
The book Odd Man Out is very well researched and persuasive. However it relies heavily on anecdotal information instead of hard facts backed up by evidence. It was published in 1993, just over 50 years after the events it describes. Would the people who are quoted have such clear memories or has the passage of time blurred the edges?
We also have to remember that the events described happened against a background of increasing military disaster and escalating panic among military leaders and politicians at the speed of the Japanese advance. Was it expedient to blame a traitor for the annihilation of the RAF airfields across the whole Malay peninsula, rather than admit to failure to take precautions to protect the aircraft?
Perhaps Heenan’s personality also played a role. He’d been a loner while at school and in his early army years. According to one senior officer there were doubts about his ability to fit into the Indian army, being viewed as “a difficult chap to fit into anything.” He was reprimanded on one occasion for bullying and after four years in service was still a lowly subaltern. But is it true that, as one Major said, that ” Heenan had a huge grudge against society and was out to get his revenge.”
Finally, there is the matter of Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan’s inclusion on the Singapore Memorial in Kranji War Cemetery. north of the city of Singapore. It bears the names of over 24,000 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who have no known grave.
If Captain Heenan was unequivocally deemed to be a traitor to his country, isn’t it surprising that he should be memorialised in this way? The authors of Odd Man Out suggest that the name of Captain Heenan P. S. V of the 16th Punjab regiment should be erased but it still exists.
Who Exactly Was Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan?
If his death is surrounded by mystery, so were elements of Patrick Heenan’s early life.
Even his real name is uncertain.
His mother Ann Stanley was unmarried at the time of his birth in the New Zealand mining town of Rerfton in 1910. The father’s name is not stated on his birth registration. A year later she met George Charles Heenan, the son of an Irish civil engineer working in northern India.
The couple, ostensibly man and wife, travelled to Burma where Patrick was baptised at the St. John Catholic Military Church in Rangoon on April 21, 1912. George Heenan was named as the father but no evidence has come to light that Anne Stanley and George Heenan had married or that the latter was Patrick’s natural father.
There is a further complication. George Heenan already had a wife at the time when he met Anne Stanley, He’d married Maud Baddley Dyer in Auckland in 1884 and they had two sons. There is no evidence they divorced. In fact, Maud continued to use the surname Heenan until her death in 1942.
The boy’s dark complexion was to give rise to suspicions later in his life that his real father was of Indian or Maori descent.
George Heenan died when the boy was two years old, leaving his “wife” to take odd jobs to earn enough money to survive. She eventually became governess to a British family who returned to their home country in 1923, taking the governess and her son with them.
Patrick initially attended Sevenoaks School but then, at the age of 16, was sent to his “father’s” alma mater, Cheltenham College. He didn’t fit in, being a bit of a loner according to former classmates. He did however show promise in the Officer’s Training Corps at the college.
His lack of academic success ruled out the possibility of admission for officer training at Sandhurst or Woolwich. but he managed to get a commission in February 1935 in the Territorial Army, using that as a springboard to a regular commission and a place in the Indian army. he left England for Poona, India in February 15, 1935, never to return.
Odd Man Out By Peter Liphick and Michael Smith, published Hodder & Stoughton 1993
New Zealand War Graves Project https://www.nzwargraves.org.nz/node/168644/
The Turncoat Who Brought Down An Empire by James I Marino. www.historynet.com
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at https://www.cwgc.org